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Lord Elis-Thomas: My Lords, the Edwards Report lists the national development pressures on national parks as being mining, quarrying, major roads, electricity, water supply, sewage treatment, major tourism and military installations and defence training grounds. I could speak for hours on all of those aspects as they have affected the national parks in Wales, but I will not do so.
The time has comeand this, surely, is the timefor national park legislation to state the priorities for sustainable development in national parks, and to relate them to this major development test. When arguing for sustainable development within national parks we are sustained by the support of the national concept in another sense. I use "national", obviously, in the ambivalent national Welsh and national English context.
With regard to national parks, the concept is about a clear designation of land for a particular environmental, social and amenity purpose. Therefore it follows that, having made that definition, there are certain other national interferences with that concept that should not be allowed to play. That is what the amendment is about. It is about stating quite clearly that within a particular designated area there is a test which limits developments to those which have a value that overrides the initial environmental, social and amenity value given to designated areas.
In fulfilling their national parks obligations in terms of existing legislation and sustainable development, the Government continue to repeat in This Common Inheritance and other papers the importance of national parkswe heard that in earlier debatesas areas where sustainable development can be tested. But it seems to me that what is sustainable in national parks is what relates to the local socio-economic and environmental structure. That structure is sustained by the further concept of the amendment that there should be no interference with that externally by major developments.
I could obviously cite power stations, nuclear power stations, reservoirs and road buildingmy noble friend Lord Chorley raised the issue of the A.5 in Committeewhich are all examples of potential or existing interference with sustainable development within the national parks, which have been allowed by previous governments. Obviously, I do not hold the present Government responsible for that, but I ask them, at this stage of our legislation on national parks and environmental policy, to take seriously the whole issue that there should be no interference with sustainable development within national parks unless it is an overriding necessity.
It is self-evident that at this stage, or later in the Bill, the Government should return to the Edwards Committee's recommendation and legislate clearly to ensure that an underpinning of the planning basis for national parks is set out clearly in the Bill.
If the Government resist the amendment, what they are saying as I read the letteris that they want to be able to change PPG7 easily. Those of us who are worried about a major development in national parks do not want the Government to be able to change PPG7 easily. As I understand it, what my noble friend said in the letter was that he wants to be able to change something easily. In this case he should not be allowed to do so.
The Earl of Lytton: My Lords, at the risk of delaying the House further, perhaps I may make just a few points on the amendment. First, I have always held the view that planning schemes should be dealt with on their meritsthat includes their demerits and I hesitate before accepting that there should be a blanket provision in the Bill.
My first impression was that the amendment was very widely drawn, but the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, pointed out the formula which he said was well tried and tested. I take it that he meant the formula of words, "likely to have significant effects on the environment". The noble Lord nods in affirmation, so I take it that I have it right.
I did not know that that form of wording was statutorily defined. I should like to ask the Minister whether he is satisfied that that is the case and whether the wording suits the particular purposes of national park authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Norrie, referred to environmental assessments. As I understand it, in the little blue book which I have there are two categories where environmental assessment, in one case for major petro chemical installations and that type of thing is mandatory, and another where it is more discretionary. I am not clear about whether the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, intends that his new clause shall apply to everything in both categories or only one.
I was even more confused when the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, fluidly rolled off a list of items from the Edwards Report. It covered items which might or might not fall within the environmental assessment category. I am a little bemused but believe that there are grounds on which there should be a presumption against certain types of intrusive and disruptive developments in national parks. I do not believe that anyone disputes that but I am a little anxious about the wording as it stands.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I believe that the wording is not good. We know what is meant and are sympathetic to what Edwards had in mind. However, the phrase "significant effects on the environment" is better than "major development". It is interesting that the latter phrase has been omitted.
Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, when in Committee we considered the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Norrie, I made it very clear that we had an objection in principle to putting planning policies in statute because we considered that to be both unnecessary and undesirable. I am glad that I managed to repeat the same words that I put in a letter to my noble friend Lord Onslow. There is some method of consistency somewhere.
I also made clear in Committee, however, and shall repeat again tonight, that the test for major development in the national parks is set out in Planning Policy Guidance Note 7. That states unequivocally that major developments should not take place in national parks save in exceptional circumstances. Because of the serious impact that major developments may have on the natural beauty of the parks, applications must be subject to the most rigorous examination, including a demonstration that they are in the public interest. All major development proposals in the national parks must be examined against this test.
The Government's planning policies, as set out in planning policy guidance, are material considerations which the town and country planning Acts require local planning authorities to take into account both in preparing their development plans and in deciding individual planning applications. The Secretary of State is bound by the same requirement and shall have regard to the same policies on matters which come before him on appeal or where he may have called in applications for his own determination.
A number of noble Lords expressed concern that perhaps other statutory undertakers would not be bound by the same kind of test. I confirm that the test also applies to those major developments which are controlled under other legislation. Those responsible for that legislation, as, for example, those bodies responsible for consents associated with the provision of
I do not accept that policies for major developments in national parks are unique and therefore justify this exceptional treatment in statute. National parks are extremely important areas of the countryside and fully deserve the protection that our policies already provide for them. However, I know that there are othersfor example, with a close interest in he future of green beltswho could claim the same treatment.
My noble friend Lord Onslow indicated that he wanted to make certain that the amendment should be accepted and that that would override PPG7. I cannot accept that. Planning decisions always involve judgments. Putting a planning test into statute will not make it any more or less likely that some people will disagree with particular decisions. I believe the present system works well and is underpinned by strong and effective legislation.
I do not believe that my noble friend's amendment raises substantial new issues, and I have not heard anything this evening which persuades me that we should review the principle that it is not appropriate for this and other planning policies to be put in statute. I therefore ask him to withdraw this amendment.
Lord Norrie: My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister's reply. At this late hour, I shall not pursue the matter. I shall look very carefully at Hansard to see whether we can come back on Third Reading with something about which we agree. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.